Abdo eyes NRLW as standalone product in next TV rights talks

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has flagged potential for an expanded NRLW competition to be sold as a separate entity in the next broadcast rights cycle in the hope the women’s game can stand on its own feet financially by 2028.

Wednesday’s announcement of fast-tracked expansion to a 10-team NRLW competition next year was doubled down with Abdo “pretty confident we’re going to be announcing a further expanded competition in 2024.”

The eventual end goal is for every NRL team to boast an NRLW counterpart.

Industry sources have indicated that running an NRLW program, including feeder sides and pathways programs, can cost a club upwards of $1 million a year.

Where once the NRL charge $50,000 licence fees to participate in the NRLW, separate grants for women’s teams will be provided from next season, matching a salary cap that is yet to be locked in, but expected to all but double this year’s $350,000 figure.

One NRLW CEO indicated that overall costs would see clubs emerge with “not much change from half a million” after the NRL grant.

However, multiple rival bosses are optimistic that revenue from sponsors, corporate and government partnerships would offset those costs and see their women’s operations all but break even.

The Raiders, Wests Tigers, Sharks and Cowboys will all field maiden NRLW teams in 2023.Credit:NRL Imagery

Negotiations around the next free-to-air and subscription television deals are likely to be broached in the next few years given both Nine, publishers of this masthead, and Foxtel are locked in as broadcasters until 2027.

While several players and coaches have expressed concerns over talent depth as the women’s game rapidly expands, Abdo is hopeful the NRLW is a significant bargaining chip in its own right in five years’ time.

“Our job is to build this competition in terms of teams and depth so that when we’re having the rights negotiations for 2028, we’re putting forward something that’s really compelling, that will be valued and bought potentially as a standalone (product) in its own right,” Abdo told the Herald.

Roosters Simone Karpani, Corban Baxter, Isabelle Kelly and Brydie Parker celebrate their NRLW title earlier this year.Credit:Getty

“Historically we’ve done rights negotiations midway through the current deal – so in two or three years we’ll be having the conversation.

“In the meantime, outside of TV deals and those cycles, we’ll work with corporates and sponsors to increase those streams and the clubs are the same.

“The more money we can bring in, the more we can invest out. Having the women’s game able to re-invest back into the athletes and into the grass roots of the game, that’s what we’re aspiring for.”

Every game of next year’s 11-round NRLW campaign (nine regular season rounds, semi-finals and a grand final) will be broadcast on either Nine or Fox Sports.

The NRL has been buoyed by rising television audiences earlier this year that saw NRLW matches attract an average audience of around 150,000 people on Channel Nine in metro and regional markets, an increase of 53 per cent on 2020 averages.

Foxtel’s average audience of between 50,000 to 60,000 viewers reflected a similar increase on 2020 figures, the last season played prior to this year due to COVID-19 constraints.

An NRLW season that kicks off around the current August start time is anticipated in 2023.

Match times and fitting added content into the current broadcast schedule is the next significant consideration for officials, with ARL chairman Peter V’landys endorsing men’s and women’s double-headers at clubs that boast both teams earlier in the year.

Stream the NRL Premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now.

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